In every war, there are heroes whose bold actions turn the tide of battle.
Sometimes their role is clear and well known. Like Capitol policeman Eugene Goodman. In a video seen around the world, he courageously lured a lynch mob away from the unprotected Senate chamber during the January 6 insurrection in Washington, DC, likely preventing violence against the US leaders hiding there. For his heroism, he was promptly promoted to Deputy Sergeant At Arms of the US Senate and escorted Vice-President Kamala Harris on Inauguration Day.
Sometimes these heroes are harder to spot. Sometimes their role is more subtle but no less decisive. And that brings me to Marc Elias, who may have played the single most important role of any American in blunting Trump’s coup to steal the election.
Elias is a balding, pretty nondescript 51-year-old lawyer without the obvious physical gravitas of Goodman. But sleeping little and working non-stop for months, grabbing random meals when possible, he led the large law team that beat back every single one of Trump’s 65 bogus claims of election fraud. Including before the Supreme Court – twice. And thereby deprived Trump of any legal claim he actually won. “Not a single judge found a single vote that was fraudulent. None. Zero,” Elias said.
To understand the importance of this, it’s important to understand Trump’s apparent plan for overturning the election here if he did not actually win it.
Months ago, when it began to look like he might lose, Trump started talking regularly about election fraud. He claimed the Democrats were planning to steal the election. He said mail voting authorised for the pandemic was inherently fraudulent, although there is no evidence this is true. He said it was illegal or unconstitutional, although states like Washington have used mail-in voting for years. He said the heavily Democratic urban centres were plotting to rig the returns for Biden. According to USA Today, Trump used the word “rigged” in tweets 75 times since May.
As the election results were fully tallied, it became clear Biden had won the popular vote 51 per cent to Trump’s 47 per cent, and our all-important electoral vote 306 to Trump’s 232. But Trump had no intention of letting it stand and unleashed his lawyers to challenge the results. Their cases were often bizarre, often based on unsubstantiated hearsay, sometimes involving obviously nutty claims that courts outright refused to hear, like the involvement of deceased Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez in the supposed election conspiracy.
At the same time, Trump was reaching out to dozens of state legislators, election officials, governors and congressmen. Especially in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, where the vote was pretty close. He begged, demanded and threatened them. He wanted them to overturn the election on his behalf. Trump wanted them to restate the count, schedule new elections, or send alternative slates of electors to DC. But they were reluctant, apparently because there was no legal evidence of fraud.
“So look. All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump told Georgia’s Secretary of State in a recorded phone call that shocked America.
And this is the key part: Trump didn’t need the courts to directly order he won the election. He probably didn’t expect that to happen. But he needed court victories indicating fraud to persuade reluctant state and federal officials to do his bidding and overturn. Without a single fraud win, it was much harder to take Trump’s side. Although 138 congressman and some state officials did so anyway, most did not and no state officials with any power chose to overturn the results.
Born in New York City, educated at Duke, an avid dog lover, Elias heads the political practice at Perkins Coie, a large Seattle law firm. I know something about the firm because they have represented me for 30 years. They have very, very smart lawyers.One went on to become a well-respected judge on the federal US Court of Appeals. Another was a lead investor in Amazon and became a billionaire.
Elias is in their league. Months before the election, he put together a team of more than a dozen Perkins Coie attorneys to knock down Republican attempts to block mail-in voting or otherwise limit the balloting. In the weeks that followed, up to and past the election, Elias and his team travelled the country, fighting and winning case after case.
Unknown to most of the world, Elias is a celebrity within the world of political representation here in the US. He represents the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association, as well various Democratic members of Congress. He was general counsel for the unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry.He served as counsel to the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton – where he became slightly famous by authorising payment for the controversial Steele Dossier that detailed alleged Trump involvement with Russia.
Elias believes in excellence. He relies on very smart, very well educated and dedicated people with an ability to write and argue. He insists on excellence as a competitive advantage. His effectiveness even caused Fox News anchor Lou Dobbs to suggest last month the Republicans buy him. “Why don’t you guys put together a half-billion dollars and go hire him?” Dobbs scolded Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller on his programme.
It’s not likely Elias, a sturdy Democrat, would take the offer. “The legal claims being advanced [by Trump] were outlandish, unsupported in law or fact, and poorly lawyered,” Elias explained. “Similar claims had been rejected by courts around the country, and the lawyers advancing them had become the subject of national ridicule.”
Ridicule is precisely what happened when a Trump lawyer tweeted in November that they had “RELEASED THE KRAKEN”, referring to their legal attack on the Biden result, named for a giant squid-like monster.
Later, as team Trump suffered loss after loss, someone tweeted: “What happened to the Kraken?”
Elias tweeted back: “I made fried calamari.”
DickBrass was vice-president of Microsoft and Oracle for almost two decades. His firm Dictronics developed the first modern dictionary-based spellcheck and he was an editor at the Daily News, NY
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